To gain practical experience in investment situations, students pitch real estate investments to their peers and determine where to allocate their capital.
Goals: Students will...
- gain practical decision-making experience by working through real life investment situations.
- be exposed to as many projects and perspectives as possible to give them a head start on future real estate and non-real estate investment decisions.
- understand what makes a good investment proposal by creating their own proposal and providing feedback to others.
Class: MGMT E-2035: Principles of Real Estate
Introduction/Background: In this class, students new to the material learn about the real estate market and financial analysis skills. The course is taught entirely online, using live web conferences and collaborative software such as Canvas Groups and Google Hangouts. This activity was a capstone project in which every student in the class joined a group which was tasked with selecting a (real life) property for sale. The groups each developed a detailed financial analysis and investment proposal from scratch and then pitched the proposal during a live, synchronous web-conference session.
Presenters employed web-cams and computer microphones to deliver their PowerPoint presentation to the live audience. All of the audience members participated live by playing the role of a lender, an investor, or an entrepreneurial partner. The audience members were given various amounts of "capital" to allocate among the projects being pitched. The team that raised the most “money” received extra credit for the course.
- Course website software such as Canvas, which allow the instructor to post assignments, assign groups, create discussion boards, etc.
- Online web conferencing software such as Adobe Connect, which allows online students to present to their peers
- Computer & webcam (student provided)
- Materials describing the property - Offering Memorandum for a real life property for sale as well as comparable properties
- A Canvas Page (course website) was created which contained detailed information about the final project including handouts, instructional videos, a detailed calendar for the assignment, directions to Canvas discussion groups, and suggested roles to be assigned to group members (screen capture attached).
- The instructor first reviewed the project in lecture. Students were then instructed to select from approximately two dozen real-life case studies in five major markets and a variety of product types (apartments, office buildings, retail centers, etc.) and then join the Canvas Group created for tackling that specific case study. (screen capture attached)
- Students had four weeks to complete the project. However, Nicolais noted that more time – about 6 weeks – might be even better.
- Week 1: Students reviewed the potential case studies for the simulation and joined the Canvas Group for the case study of their preference. No more than 5-6 students could join each group.
- Week 2: Students developed their financial analysis and PowerPoint presentations in their group using course concepts. Each member of the group had a different specific role, such as facilitating the group meetings, making the PowerPoint, or presenting in class. The detailed assignment instructions are attached.
- The instructor kept tabs on students’ progress on the project by viewing their Canvas Group pages to see if the students had been collaborating and discussing the project on their page. If he did not see much activity, he would check in with the group to make sure they were on track to complete the project by the deadline.
- Since students were required to present live on camera in front of their peers, the teaching staff held one-on-one "Technology Check-ins" to acquaint the presenters with presenting in Adobe Connect and work out any bugs before the live presentation. The instructor scheduled these using Canvas’s calendar feature and spent 5-10 minutes with each group making sure their technology was working. This was a vital step in making things go smoothly on presentation night.
- Week 3 (Round 1 of Presentations): The class was already divided into two sessions (Tuesday and Wednesday), so half the groups presented in each class. Eight 10-minute presentations were delivered per session. Audience members were expected to attend one, but not both, sessions.
- All audience members actively participated in the presentations by playing the role of either an lender, an equity investor, or an entrepreneurial partner. It was important for audience participation that every student had a role. Each audience member received a specific amount of capital which they were charged with allocating to the projects they felt would make the best investment.
- Each student separately completed a quiz on the course website in which they allocated capital to projects of their choice and provided qualitative feedback to the presenting groups.
- Week 4 (Round 2 of Presentations): The three teams who raised the most capital during the first round were invited to present to the opposite session for the second round (for example: the first round winner from the Tuesday session would present on the following Wednesday) with a more detailed presentation.
- Audience members participated as with Round 1 but to provide a richer experience, they played different roles.
- Members of the winning teams received a bonus on their semester grade.
- Nicolais described how “the most exciting aspect of this collaborative simulation is that it was executed 100% online using Canvas and Adobe Connect. It was a huge undertaking but it really paid off.”
- Some students were initially skeptical about the feasibility of the activity. He wrote, “Leading up to the project, I received many concerned e-mails from students who were apprehensive about undertaking a group project and presentation online with peers they'd never met and who were in different time zones (we literally had students all from around the world). After the project, students were enthusiastic and amazed at the positive experience they had.” Instructors interested in conducting a similar project should anticipate similar hesitation from students and not let these concerns deter them.
- Nicolais attributed the success of this activity to a few elements. First, “this simulation took a tremendous amount of planning in advance and the careful development of detailed support materials.” Second, Nicolais wrote about the importance of the right software and online tools. The ability to create Group sites and discussion boards on the Canvas site was essential for student collaboration.
- Finally, the "Technology Check-ins" referenced previously were absolutely essential to smooth presentation sessions.” These sessions allowed students to ask questions and troubleshoot in advance. Nicolais reported that there was not a single technical difficulty during the student presentations because of these check-ins.
- If Nicolais could do one thing differently, he would have made the project longer and had earlier deadlines. 4 weeks was feasible, but providing students with more time – about 6 weeks instead – would have been helpful.
Submitted by Teo Nicolais, Instructor, Harvard Extension School
Recipient of the Spring 2015 ABLConnect Teaching Innovator Prize